“Foster a culture that can drive innovation”

Sherrif Karamat, since January 2018 new CEO of the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA)

tw: From your observation: What are the top two challenges for international associations these days?
Sherrif Karamat:
Acquiring and keeping top talent in a very competitive labour market is a constant challenge and is getting greater as we evolve into a more digitised society. Secondly, most associations are still operating with legacy structures and systems, which does not always allow for associations to be nimble, especially when it comes to decision making. Today, associations are competing for relevance with everyone, not just with other associations, so the idea of being nimble and responsive is not a luxury but a necessity.

How would you describe the role of associations as drivers of innovation in their respective industry?
Associations have been drivers of innovation for a long time, but they might not have been recognised for the important role they play in their sector, whether that’s medical, energy, technology, etc. Associations bring together academia, practioners and suppliers to the sector, which drive thought leadership, generation of new ideas and even create a catalyst for new start-ups. For a long time, associations have been a place for research and critical discourse on issues in their respective sectors. However today, we are aided by technology, social media and other tools that foster greater collaboration.

What about trade associations in the meetings industry such as PCMA?

I believe that the business events industry is a catalyst for economic and social progress across the world for organizational success, as well as personal and professional development. For too long we have focused on what we do, versus the impact of what we do. At PCMA, our culture is about cross collaboration and innovation – this is not new to us, but we have been steadily building upon the platform we have created. Through a blend of face-to-face and digital, PCMA is fostering a culture of “exploring possibilities”, by allowing participants from disparate areas of expertise to experiment and learn from mistakes, because through failure we can learn, grow and innovate.

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How can associations become drivers of innovation?
Associations are in an ideal position to foster a culture that can drive innovation. They become drivers of innovation by understanding the platform that they have, as well as knowing the expertise, knowledge and interests of their members. Associations can support various initiatives to foster this culture, which can bring ideas that will advance their specific sector to the forefront. Secondly, many associations are conservative and therefore naturally resistant to change. so just to reiterate my previous answer, I believe associations, and our society in general, should recognize failure as an important step towards ultimate success.

Which role do their conferences and events play during this transformation?
If events or congresses are “outcome” focused, they can be one of the most important ways to drive innovation and transformation. Assembling a vast wealth of knowledgeable people in one place, can lead to many innovative solutions, if the environment created by the meeting organizers, allows for experimentation, creativity and risk taking – with a good dose of fun – I believe the possibilities are endless, and will only be limited by ourselves.

Do you believe all this will have an impact on the way associations plan and design their conferences?
If it does not have an impact on the way associations design their conferences, they stand a good chance of losing engagement with their constituents, and ultimately will lose relevance to the sector they are trying to serve. A purpose-driven and design-thinking mentality is critical to engaging audiences, as well as understanding your audiences, what information they consume and through which channels. This will determine engagement and success. KERSTIN WÜNSCH